I WAS very happy to be invited to the "moving up and recognition day" of the Birthright Educators Foundation Inc. last April 26 and to witness the significant strides that the school has made since its founding in 1993.

Birthright was the very first special private elementary school in Muntinlupa City dedicated to the needs of autistic children and other children with intellectual disabilities.

Its founders -- Teacher Miriam del Rosario and her husband Pastor Jun -- came to my office at the Muntinlupa city hall one day and asked if I could help kick start the school which the couple wanted to incorporate as a non-profit foundation.

I did not need much convincing. I immediately wrote a check for P68,000 -- part of the proceeds of my annual Mayor Toting Bunye Invitational golf tournament. Instinctively, I said to myself:

This will probably be one of the most meaningful social investments I will ever make.

My instinct proved correct. Years later, I received an unexpected email from Mrs. Rhodora "Dory" Mandap. At that time, Dory was a teacher at Itaas Elementary School. She is now the principal at the Cupang Elementary School in Muntinlupa.

She wrote about Lylette, her daughter, a special child, whom I helped enroll at Birthright.

"Dalagang-dalaga na po si Lylette although she will forever be my baby. Continuous po pag-aaral nya sa Birthright. Nasa pre-vocational class po sya. Accdg to teacher Miriam del Rosario, she's no longer capable of continuing through the high school curriculum kaya life skills na ang itinuturo sa kanya.

"She's a good cook now. She can also bake. Her specialty and best seller: double chocolate oatmeal cookies. At kung dati ay hindi nagsasalita....pagkadaldal naman ngayon! Thank you so much for your help."

Zherwin "Bong" Balota was one of the first four students of Birthright. More than 20 years ago, Bong was a problem boy, aged 9, with practically zero skills. Bong used to walk aimlessly around Parkhomes Village in Tunasan, Muntinlupa, (where Birthright is located), ringing door bells, sometimes throwing stones at passersby and sometimes pilfering articles from sari-sari stores when their owners were not watching.

No one ever imagined, except perhaps for Teacher Miriam and Pastor Jun, that one day Bong would grow up into a responsible adult. Teacher Miriam and Pastor Jun knew that deep within, Bong was a potential, which only needed to be unlocked. Bong eventually graduated from the vocational program where he learned to cook, do housework, and other practical skills. Bong is now a teacher aide and monitor at Birthright.

There is also the case of RJ Gongora, who overcame a severe speech defect. He is now a teacher at Birthright. Jan Christopher Hernandez, who could hardly speak at three years old, eventually finished Bachelor of Science in Accountancy with flying colors!

Beyond its classrooms in Park Homes, Tunasan, Muntinlupa City, Birthright has outreach programs. Birthright started its first outreach with informal settlers along the railroad track in the RMT area of Barangay Tunasan. When the informal settlers were relocated by the government, Birthright 'adopted' the old dumpsite in Southside, San Pedro, Laguna.

Birthright now has three centers in San Pedro, Laguna. The first is the HALMS Center where young children at risk are being prepared for school. The second is the Family Center where mothers and teen-agers congregate weekly for values formation and life coaching.

The third -- Mt. Olives Turf of Hope -- is where Birthright hopes to put up its future high school.

The good work done by Birthright has not gone unnoticed. Some of its projects are now undertaken with the assistance of generous groups like The Liliane Foundation of Netherlands, Norfil, the Alabang Ladies international Group, a friend from Singapore, and, of course, the city government of Muntinlupa.

Teacher Miriam dreams of a future high school and a physical rehab center. I have no doubt that Birthright will be able to attain these in the future, just as it has grown from the very first special elementary school in Muntinlupa to what it is today.

Clearly, its founders are driven and inspired by its very name, "Birthright" -- which means "natural or moral right" -- to provide youths with special needs the same opportunities to learn, develop and reach their maximum potential.

It has been a privilege walking with Birthright in this very inspiring journey of hope, discovery and fulfillment.

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